The FIFA soccer laws, known as the Laws of the Game, are a set of 17 rules that every soccer club and organization follows. The rules are regulated (not by FIFA if you thought so) but by the Internation Football Association Board (IFAB). IFAB, which became an independent association in 2014, is the true guardian of the Laws of the Game.
FIFA is one of the voting members but not the only one. The four British associations (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) are also voting members. During voting, FIFA has four votes and each British association one vote. To pass a motion three-quarters majority is required.
Every year, during the spring Anual General Meeting of IFAB the changes of the Laws of the Game which will take effect in the following season (starting June 1) are announced. Most often the changes are improvement of language or refinement of terms to remove ambiguities. However, sometimes the changes introduced are really serious game changers.
It appears that some of the changes that were introduced this year will probably have a serious effect on the game. Let’s review them.
Handballs: In the current form of the laws, an accidental (unintentional) handball by an attacking player that results in a goal or creates a goal-scoring opportunity allows the goal to count or the game to continue. In the new version of the laws, the referee must award a free kick to the defending team.
Penalties: The current rules allow goalkeepers during a penalty to stand behind the goal line. This helps them to start a forward motion before the kick is taken, enabling them to move forward a bigger distance as the ball approaches the goalpost and hence close down a bigger fraction of the exposed area. Also the current rules, do not forbid a goalkeeper to shake the goalpost as a way to intimidate the kicker. The new rules require that the goalkeeper has part of one foot on the goal line and that the posts, crossbar, and nets are not moving during the kick.
Substitutions: The current laws have no requirement at which place a substituted player must exit the pitch. As a result, this is used as a delay mechanism with many players exiting at the halfway line as slowly as possible. The new rules require that the player exits the field at the nearest point of the touchline or goal line.
Walls: The current laws allow offensive players to interfere with the wall of the defensive team during a free kick. The new laws require that all offensive players are at least one meter away.
Goalkicks: The current form of the rules require that a defender cannot play the ball after a goalkick unless it has exited the penalty area. The new laws allow him/her to play it inside the penalty area. Offensive players must stay outside the area but once the ball is kicked they can challenge it.
There are some additional changes (such as allowing referees to show cards to team officials, introduce cooling breaks of 3 minutes versus drinks breaks of 1 minute, changing the rules of the dropped ball, etc) but we predict that it is the previous five changes will make a big impact. (Download the official IFAB document to read all changes.) Among all changes, we have mixed feelings for the penalty and wall changes since they interfere with tactical decisions. The coaches and players should have plans on how to act during these situations. It should not be IFAB who helps one of the teams; it should be their plans.